Helping Ruth Center renovate its home for elderly poor

There is something about putting in time, talent and treasure that moves your affection towards something. Here we were, six men who wanted to help renovate a home for the elderly poor in Uthai Thani, four hours drive north of Bangkok,  in a rural area so rustic there is no shopping mall or cinema. We landed at Bangkok’s international airport at about 9am and were straightaway driven to a rural province that is full of farms. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Texas Chicken, and after that the towns got smaller and more rural and quiet.

The WRPF construction team to Uthai Thani

Before we knew it we were moving our luggage from the van into individual colourful chalets in a neat row. SGD$10 per night per person. At this hotel rate, there was nothing to complain about. Outside all around are corn or “jagong” farms. Very serene, very quiet. The only staff a lady, whose husband and young child, stays in a makeshift hut without walls near the entrance. She is the receptionist, the housekeeper, the chambermaid, the concierge, the security guard.

Kenny and Kenneth with the colourful chalet in the background

After thirty minutes to settle we boarded the Volkswagen and headed to the home for the elderly poor which was about fifteen minutes drive away. Steve the highly skilled and committed YWAM worker from the US, who  was in charge of the construction and renovation projects of Ruth Center, showed us the scope of the renovation project and  introduced us to the elderly poor who were already settled into the home.

The temple had been renovated for use by six elderly residents. More rooms were needed.

One building, a former temple had already been renovated and fitted for use for the current elderly folk. Another huge building, formerly a barn or storage building, was partially renovated into a kitchen, dining and activity or recreation space with a TV set.  Our job was to paint, and set up the metal framework upon which to affix the wall partitions made of prefabricated mental panels and door frames. At the end, we possibly could make 4-6 bedrooms each accommodating about 2 men in each room. But this goal proved to be too ambitious.

Simon and Steve painting the walls in the former barn
Kenny and Steven painting the outside walls of the barn
Tom and Steve painting the high walls with scaffolding
Simon cutting the metal column and beams to size
Kenneth drilling holes in the metal columns and beams
Xavier sealing the windows with silicone
Xavier bashing down a disused telephone pole
Tom and Xavier drilling holes in the concrete floor to affix the metal columns
Tom Cannon leading the construction team by example
Tom affixing the vertical columns to the wall
Kenneth painting the metal beams
Steve welding the metal columns and beams
Delicious meals cooked by Not, the leader of Ruth Center

On the next day, a Saturday we started the renovation and we left our chalet at 7am in the morning and returned back each night at about 8pm. We had all our meals at the home. And we went straight to the airport on Tuesday after breakfast, saying goodbye and thank you and photo-taking. It was straight to the airport, no shopping, no reception, almost like a special forces mission haha!!

Every one was tired but feeling grateful and satisfied and joyful after the mission ended. We felt our heart was with Ruth Center and its vision We could not see the project to completion and we felt like coming back to finish it, but it was not possible. Someone else or Steve with some assistants would have to complete the rest of the work. I find myself feeling fulfilled, since the Lord had been putting in my heart to be more incarnational in my service, to be practical and concrete in showing love, to not remain in the safety and comfort zone of pastoral work.  I felt good that I had taken some baby steps in this direction and this is one of the platforms where I have been learning to obey the Lord.

I further believe such works of service are a great platform for believers who have gifts and skills of practical service to serve God in missions.

Here is a video of what we did (video will be uploaded when completed):

Making progress patiently

Steven, Simon, Jacob, Kenneth, Simeon

We were hopeful of completing the new floor and wall for the slum home of a poor elderly couple. But it was not to be. The amount of work exceeded our estimation. It could have been completed if we had better skills and tools. We had no lack of hands. We lacked skills and confidence. Nevertheless the team learned quickly by observing how Steve did things. He was amazing to watch. In fact it was fun to see how he handled different challenges and problems in the course of construction.

The floor boards were made of some kind of composite of concrete and fibre. They were heavy and even five of us urbanites could not lift them. However two of their locals easily lifted and carried all of them for us to the house.

I was not of much help to the construction, and sort of fell into the role of “unofficial” photographer and storyteller. So today I focused on taking good photos and on telling the story. I became more serious about camera angles, and interviewed the initiator and leader of the Ruth Center. I spent an hour talking to Noi the diminutive “giant” who ministered among the elderly poor. This story will require a post in itself.

So at the end of the day, we finished 90% of the floor and 70% of the walls and decided to call it a day as it was over 5pm. Then we had to give away “Cold Storage” school bags to the poor school children of the slums.

By the time we were in the van, it was 6pm. This was risky. And our anxiety was proven true for we got stuck in the Bangkok peak traffic jam at Sukhumvit. The van was stationary for close to 10 minutes. Nothing moved. So when we saw the Rembrandt Hotel through the van window, we decided unanimously to take a walk. We reached the hotel in 15minutes! I think by the time we entered the hotel, the van might have moved a mere 100 metres.

We were learning when to be patient and when to be decisive.

Mission in Bangkok

Today I left home at about 9am and reached Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok at about 4.30pm. This was a whole day given to travelling by car, plane and train, and quite a bit of walking with luggage in tow.

We were here to do some building work among the poor for Ruth Center in Bangkok. Last year we had a camp cum missions trip and had worked with them. This year we wanted to come help them with a small team of men who believe that donating their leave, money and strength and skills are one way of serving in the missions field.

Thai food: delicious and inexpensive

Tonight we went for a team dinner but where we went did not have big enough tables and seating for eleven persons. So we split up and enjoyed our Thai traditional dishes in a restaurant called INTER near the Siam Station of BTS.

Chinese New Year in Bangkok: the great escape

The unblocked view from the airport
The unblocked view from the balcony
A tiny lake sits outside the pool
A tiny lake sits outside the pool
Breakfast next to the breezy balcony
Breakfast next to the breezy balcony

The seven day rest was sweet. They were days of eating well. We were in Bangkok, in my wife’s sister’s home. Breakfasts were leisurely and we had homemade chwee kueh and carrot cake besides the great walnut bread and Thai avocado. Lunch was mostly in the shopping malls. We enjoyed the Thai meals at Banana Leaf. And there were many Japanese restaurants but we liked Fuji Japanese restaurant. Dinner was mostly at family run restaurants located at or near the condo.

At a shopping mall at outskirts of Bangkok
At a shopping mall at outskirts of Bangkok
Welcome meal at Fuji Japanese restaurant
Welcome meal at Fuji Japanese restaurant

The weather was lovely and refreshing, from 18 to 25 degrees centigrade. The cool breeze flowed into the home through the open balcony while we had breakfast. At night the cold air passed through the mosquito mesh and chilled the bedroom. During a day trip to the Bangsean Beach at Chon Buri, we had to wear windbreakers. If these temperatures prevailed through the year Bangkok would be a delightful and inexpensive place to live in.

Walkway along Bangsean Beach a local haunt about two hours drive from the airport near Chon Buri
Walkway along Bangsean Beach a local haunt about two hours drive from the airport near Chon Buri
They serve horseshoe crab eaten mainly for its roe.
They serve horseshoe crab eaten mainly for its roe.
Seafood in abundance
Seafood in abundance
You have to pay for the seats in four hours segment
You have to pay for the seats in four hours segment
Simeon Poh enjoying the coconut juice
Simeon Poh enjoying the coconut juice
Leg massage on the spot
Leg massage on the spot
The beach was tempting but it was 18 degree centigrade
The beach was tempting but it was 18 degree centigrade
Lunch at a local seafood restaurant
Lunch at a local seafood restaurant
Jack, Michelle, Elaine
Jack, Michelle, Elaine
Chinese restaurant owner's offerings for Lunar Chinese New Year.
Chinese restaurant owner’s offerings for Lunar Chinese New Year.

I was tired and it was good to get into a rhythm of sleep and eat and shop. The shopping malls were similar to what we have in Singapore. Some local brands like BreadTalk and Charles and Keith and all the usual international brands were represented. Imported products were not any cheaper than what you had to pay in Singapore. The MacBook Air sold at the same price as in Singapore. However there were some sales going on and we took full advantage of that.

Reunion dinner at MK branch later in the evening at shopping mall
Reunion dinner at MK branch later in the evening at shopping mall
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At the entrance of the 180 years old Thai market
By locals for locals - dried fish with orange roe
By locals for locals – dried fish with orange roe
Shopkeepers of sundry goods and decorative stuff
Shopkeepers of sundry goods and decorative stuff
Cute colourful tiffin carriers
Cute colourful tiffin carriers
Fortune teller service
Fortune teller service
Taking a breather
Taking a breather
A coconut themed ice cream dessert
A coconut themed ice cream dessert
Elaine taking a good CNY break
Elaine taking a good CNY break

Chinese New Year is not celebrated in Thailand. There are no public holidays given. In Singapore, we have two public holidays on Monday and Tuesday. Over in Bangkok these were working days for everyone. So it’s a good place to have your “escape” from the stress of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. All the shops and restaurants were open. There were no long queues outside popular restaurants. In fact we had steamboat at MK for the reunion dinner. It was like any other day – business as usual.

Two books for spiritual nourishment
Two books for spiritual nourishment

I brought two books along Unfolding His Story by Georgie Lee and Galven Lee and Preaching by Timothy Keller. I finished the former by day three and was three quarters through reading the latter. Both were good books and I hope to share my reflections on them in this blog.

Jack and Baby
Jack and Baby

My wife’s sister Baby showed great and attentive hospitality and we were greatly blessed by the attention to detail and her constant thoughtfulness and patience. She did the bargaining in the 180 year old market and in the shopping malls, and in getting information from Thai vendors. She has lived in Bangkok for over two decades and speaks Thai with ease (which makes her tri-lingual!).

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Saying goodbye to the lovely balcony view in the morning
Useful macro of Olympus TG Tough compact
Useful macro of Olympus TG Tough compact
Another macro shot of cactus on the balcony
Another macro shot of cactus on the balcony
A local fruit sold at the market
A local fruit sold at the market – another macro TG tough shot.

Near the end it became stressful because our shopping booty was more than the luggage weight we purchased. We had to buy additional weight to bring all our shopping home. Besides this minor glitch, we had a great escape indeed: great rest, food, shopping, reading and unwinding from all the strains of Singapore life. I returned refreshed.

First Chinese New Year in Bangkok

It was my first ever Chinese New Year outside of Singapore. Considerable numbers have escaped hectic Singapore during this particular festive season for different reasons. My family flew to Bangkok on Air Asia on Thursday evening. We spent the extended weekend with my sister in law’s family. Normally they would come over to stay with us during Christmas but last year they did not. So we went over during this Lunar New Year. We shopped (or rather, my children shopped); we ate, and just talked and wandered around. There was the local weekend market which required a ferry ride and a motorbike to bring you there. We went there as we wanted the children to experience it too.

2 sisters: Baby and Jenny

Wen Mun and Simeon

Father and sons

Elaine n Wen Mun

cousins

Matthew and Elaine

CNY reunion dinner

on the ferryEat where locals eat

The dervish in Terminal 21Hints of Istanbul bazaardouble decker in Bangkok!

London telephone boothsumo wrestlers in Terminal 21Japanese warlord

We shopped at Terminal 21, a new concept shopping mall, with the decor of different floors themed to Tokyo, London, Istanbul, and Paris. And a few other shopping malls. They do not have public holidays for the Chinese New Year and though I heard there would be lots of Chinese nationals holidaying there, I hardly saw them. It was a most enjoyable time of catching up and relaxation and family time.

two beauties

decked in clothes bought in Bangkok